Force Majeure (2014)

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“He got so scared that he ran away from the table.”

Force Majeure is a family film, just not in the conventional sense. It’s not for families to hunker down with popcorn on a cold weekend night and enjoy a nice flick together. This is a film about families. About the unreasonable personal rifts, what makes each of us tick, and our trouble to move past previous grievances. A family is a hard thing to maintain. Members come and go, move here and there, and either purposefully distance themselves or become so damn attached that they never make a life for themselves. Force Majeure has some dark humor, but it’s not the twisted comedy some reviews suggest. This is a quiet drama with sharp, explosive interjections sure to alter the lives of a small bourgeois Swedish family vacationing to ski the French Alps.

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Director and writer Ruben Östlund slowly pulls the rug from beneath the feet of the seemingly steady and tight-knight family which Force Majeure is centered around. Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) is a businessman taking a much-needed break to devote more time to his family. That includes his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsl) and their children Vera and Harry (played by real siblings Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren). Their pivotal moment, which if you’ve seen the trailer or even glanced at the poster, comes in the form of a controlled avalanche. Whilst sitting outside and enjoying a light lunch, an enveloping rush of powder rushes down the hill and towards the resort. Ebba asks Tomas, “Is that safe?” Calmly recording the forces of nature he replies, “Sure, it’s controlled.” Force Majeure shows its bravery by hanging every single moment of the film on this one scene. It’s brief too, shown almost at full length in the trailer, but it’s also pivotal and precisely executed. It would be just as effective with this one clip as it is as a whole, which is both good and bad.

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The snow showers them. Tomas runs away, abandoning his family for safety while Ebba plays mother bear protecting her two little cubs. What’s unique is that the situation itself isn’t life-threatening. Nobody gets hurt, no one goes missing, save for Tomas before cowardly reapproaching his family. That’s foreign cinema for you. In contrast to most American films, foreign movies, primarily European, are comfortable with drawing emotion and confrontation out of small, mostly uneventful situations. And the reason they work better is because they’re real. We’ve experienced them and can put ourselves in the characters’ position. The question then becomes; how do you handle it? How does Tomas face his family and how do they see him? He refuses to accept that he ran away like Ebba recounts. The kids see it as a sign of a strained marital relationship. These are honest consequences of a decision driven by primal fear.

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Force Majeure is about as minimalist as you can get. While that hinders the story a bit and can make it feel slow, the scenes and dialogue are all purposefully introspective for the characters, primarily the adults. You wonder what’s going on in their heads. And we see how a small act can be accompanied by harsh realizations and unintentional ramifications. Lies and an unwillingness to accept the truth have the ability to infect and spread through familial bonds as fast as a deadly disease. Force Majeure ends on a bit of an ambiguous note. You’ll question whether or not this little clan unearths the antidote to their problems, as well as their own newfound identities, somewhere in the vast sea of white.

“I don’t share that interpretation of the events.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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